Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Jeff Clement Picked Higher Than Projected--Seattle Drafts Him No. 3

Let’s hear it for Jeff Clement.

The kid from Marshalltown has gone west and struck gold.

Clement, a junior at Southern California, was the third pick in today's major league baseball draft. The left-handed hitting catcher was chosen by the Seattle Mariners.

Obviously, first-round picks have the chance to make a lot of money. Let's hope he hires the right agent. The way baseball teams throw their dollars and cents around these days to bums, has-beens and never-weres, an Iowa kid deserves his share of the wealth.

Clement, who set a national high school home run record with 75 in his career at Marshalltown, leads USC [40-20] in batting average at .347, home runs with 13 and runs batted in with 50 heading into this weekend's NCAA super-regional best-of-three series against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore.

Baseball America expected Clement to be selected in the middle of the first round in the draft, but he did much better than that.

"Clement's power is a separator," an American League scouting director told Baseball America.

Seattle's website said this is the first time the Mariners had a first-round draft choice since 1999, when they selected high school catcher Ryan Christianson, currently with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. But he doesn't have the power potential of Clement, a 6-foot 1-inch, 210-pounder.

"We think Jeff is a player we not only feel deserved to be in the top part of the draft, but fortunately for us, also could fill needs within the organization," Mariners scouting director Bob Fontaine said. "Catching is very hard to find, and a left-handed hitting catcher at that."

Jason Upton, a shortstop at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Va., was the No. 1 choice in the draft. He went to the Arizona Diamondbacks. His brother, B.J., was the second pick in 2002 by Tampa Bay, and the Uptons are the highest-drafted siblings in draft history.

Scott Zilmer, an NBCSports.com contributor, projected Clement to be the No. 6 pick in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays.

"Clement has been on the prospect radar ever since he shattered the national high school home run record as an Iowa prep," Zilmer wrote. "Scouts love his left-handed power and the fact that he has worked hard to improve his catching while at USC.

"And even if he doesn't cut it as a professional catcher, Clement's bat will get him to the big leagues in a hurry as a [designated hitter]."

Clement led Marshalltown to the 2002 Class 4-A state high school championship.

He has been named one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award. The award goes to the nation’s top collegiate catcher.

Arizona’s Nick Hundley and Texas’ Taylor Teagarden are the other finalists. A final vote will take place during the College World Series, with the winner to be announced June 29 in Wichita, Kan. Bench, a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds and now a Hall of Famer, will present the award.

USC also said Clement is also one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the nation’s top amateur player by USA Baseball. He is on the 2005 USA Today Sports Weekly all-America first team, and he also earned his third consecutive all-Pac-10 Conference honor.

“One of his compadres, Mike Mogard, is playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes, said Mark Robinson, a former Iowan now living in California, told me in an e-mail. "Those boys played together on the Marshalltown team that went to the Little League World Series.”

Clement made his second straight appearance for the U.S. National team last year, batting .275 with three homers and 15 ruins batted in. His team won the gold medal at the FISU II World University Baseball Championships in Taiwan, helping Team USA to the championship after hitting a grand-slam in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 5-2 victory over Chinese Taipei.

USC got only four hits, but advanced to the NCAA super-regional Monday night by beating Pepperdine, 5-2, in the championship game of the NCAA Long Beach Regional.

The 18th-ranked Trojans play Oregon State in a best-of-three super-regional series at Corvallis, Ore., starting Friday.

Vol. 4, No. 348
June 7, 2005